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As a caregiver, the most important thing you can do for the person you are caring for is to care for yourself. Your health and wellbeing are central to being a caregiver. Scheduling time for yourself each day will enable you to be creative, resourceful, and will help decrease your frustration when things are not going as planned.

The Dementia Alliance of North Carolina estimates there are over 475,000 dementia caregivers in North Carolina. You are not alone. Most caregivers are family members of someone with dementia. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 34% of caregivers are 65 or older and another 25% are part of the “sandwich” generation who are taking care of children as well as a parent or grandparent.

Caregivers are often so busy caring for others, they neglect to pay attention to their own physical and mental health needs. The CDC reports that caregiving is associated with an increase in anxiety and depression, compromised immune function, increased reports of poor physical health and an increased risk of early death. Therefore, it is important that you continue to care for yourself by eating well, exercising, and having caregiving time out.

What makes caregiving so difficult?

There are numerous studies about caregiving. We have learned that caregiving can often:

  • Create physical and psychological strain over extended periods of time;
  • Have high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability;
  • Have the capacity to create secondary stress in home, work, and family relationships;
  • Require high levels of vigilance.

(Schulz, R, Sherwood, P.R.  Physical and Mental Effects of Family Caregiving. Am J Nurs.2008 Sep; 108 (9Suppl)23-27.)

Because of these attributes of caregiving, it is important to create your “caregiving community” of both physical and informational resources. Since caregiving will involve changes to your current lifestyle, pay attention to your needs and adjusting your lifestyle to meet those needs. To do this, consider:

  • Sharing with family and friends your need for a “time out” and ask for a scheduled time they can assist;
  • Using in-home help or using local resources such as adult day care or senior center activity;
  • Joining a support group either in-person or online to match your scheduling needs.

The primary goal is to preserve time for meeting your needs while meeting the needs of your loved one.

We hope this information will help you recognize the importance of caring for yourself and that your health is vital to continue caring for your loved one.